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Hamiet Bluiett: Saying Something For All

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Among the major saxophonists to emerge in the past 25 years, Hamiet Bluiett’s also becoming one of the most ubiquitous, as these four recently re-leased CDs indicate. They illustrate his ability to work in varied settings too. Most of Saying Something was cut in 1977 with a duo including pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, although there are two unaccompanied baritone solos, one, “Requiem for Kent State,” from 1979. Live at Carlos 1 has him with pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Idrees Muhammad, and percussionist Chief Bey in 1986. The other two CDs were done lately.

Bluiett picked up ideas, directly or indirectly, from tenormen like John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Albert Ayler, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk and adapted them to baritone sax. He extended the upper register of the instrument, shrieking and squealing, emphasized using varied timbral effects, and employed multiphonics and circular breathing. His tone is big and dark like Harry Carney’s, and he likes to play loudly.

On Saying Something Bluiett plays flute and soprano clarinet with Abrams as well as baritone. On soprano clarinet he’s impressive, sounding a bit like a latter day Sidney Bechet. The two cadenza-like unaccompanied baritone selections are the best, though. Bluiett rattles the shingles with his monstrous lower register work.

The music on Carlos 1 has both post bop (steady tempos, swinging rhythm section work) and avant garde characteristics. One of the tunes Bluiett plays, “Sophisticated Lady,” was a feature for Carney. Born in 1940, Bluiett came through several jazz movements and plays traditionally very well. His solos are full of substance. Miller’s atypically dissonant percussive playing may surprise some. His improvisation is wonderfully fresh; in addition to Wynton Kelly and McCoy Tyner he’s reminiscent of Monk and even Cecil Taylor here.

The Knitting Factory CD has Bluiett with three other baritone players, including James Carter. Bluiett solos impressively, although ensemble work is emphasized more here than on the two above CD’s. Like Gravity, this group was formed partly to show the potential of a specific instrument. Bluiett makes his point; the performances contain varied moods, colors and textures.

The World Saxophone Quartet contains Bluiett, Oliver Lake, David Murray and John Purcell, who replaced founding member Julius Hemphill. Here they have a rhythm section including Jack DeJohnette on drums and piano and percussionists Chief Bey, Okyerema Asante and Titos Sompa. Tunes associated with Miles Davis, three from “Kind of Blue,” “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “Nefertiti,” “Selim” and “Tutu” are performed. Happily the group arranges them their own way rather than trying to evoke Miles’ original performances. That’s the way to go-emphasize your strengths.

The arranged and collectively improvised sections are quite good, sometimes surprisingly delicate, but there’s not enough solo work here. Maybe the idea was to de-emphasize them, but when you have improvisers of such high caliber in a band, you want to hear them stretch out more. The percussionists do a fine job of keeping things lively and interacting with each other and the woodwind players, and DeJohnette takes a laudable piano solo on “Selim.”